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Human Population Growth and the Environment. Explosive Population Growth Limited Natural Resources Increasing Environmental Stress Sustainable Use?.

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human population growth and the environment
Human Population Growth and the Environment
  • Explosive Population Growth
  • Limited Natural Resources
  • Increasing Environmental Stress
  • Sustainable Use?
“Efforts to slow down population growth, to reduce poverty, to achieve economic progress, to improve environmental protection, and to reduce unsustainable consumption and production patterns are mutually reinforcing. Slower population growth has in many countries increased those countries’ ability to attack poverty, protect and repair the environment, and build the base for future sustainable development.”


humans are recent arrivals
Humans are Recent Arrivals
  • Earth - 5 Billion Years
  • Human Beings ~ 2 Million Years
  • Human Population Growth into Billions over the last 200 years

6.7 Billion

A Million Years Of Human Growth (1)

a closer look 1
12,000 years

200 Million by 1 A.D.

2,000 Years

1 Billion in 1800

A Closer Look (1)

The Industrial Revolution

1 Billion

200 million

what s behind population growth
Three Factors


Infant Mortality


Animal Domestication and Agriculture

Industrial Revolution

Growth of Cities and Infrastructure




Increased Productivity

Better Nutrition

Better Sanitation


What’s Behind Population Growth
total fertility trends
Total Fertility Trends

At 1990 fertility rates: population would grow to 110 billion by 2100

population may overshoot
Population May Overshoot

Scenario - current population trend, doubled resources (5)

resource consumption 6
Resource Consumption (6)
  • High consumption

Rate increase faster than population growth

resource limits land 7
Resource Limits - Land (7)
  • Deforesting to acquire more arable land
  • Would run out in next century at current yields
  • Probably need to double yields
resource limits water 8
Resource Limits - Water (8)
  • In 1950 people used half of accessible water
  • Are now dependent on dams
  • Pollution loses 33% of potential water
Since the 1950s,

global demand for water has tripled.

Groundwater quantity and quality are declining due to over-pumping, runoff from fertilizers and pesticides, and leaking of industrial waste.

Half a billion people live in countries defined as waterstressed or water-scarce;

By 2025, that figure is expected to surge to between 2.4 billion and 3.4 billion. - - UNFPA

energy consumption 9
Energy Consumption (9)
  • Energy growth very high last fifty years
  • Mostly hydrocarbon fuels
  • Nonrenewable resource consumption and climate change issues
economics and resources 11
Economics and Resources (11)

The poorest 20% of the world share less of the wealth


% of global income


Poorest 20%

Richest 20%

impact on the environment 12
Impact on the Environment (12)
  • Ecological Footprints
    • United States - 5 hectares/person
    • Developing nations - 0.5 hectare/person
  • For everyone to live at today’s US footprint would require 3 planet Earths
  • Increasing affluence and population is damaging Earth’s essential ecology
our commons are in danger
Our ‘Commons’ are in Danger
  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Climate change
  • Ozone Depletion
  • Water pollution, including ground aquifers
  • Deforestation
  • Soil Degradation
  • The oceans, coral reefs and their bounty
  • National parks, wildernesses and wetlands
  • Nonrenewable natural resource depletion
    • Fossil fuels, mineral ores, topsoil…..
biodiversity is in danger 13
Biodiversity is in Danger (13)
  • Humanity has spawned a species extinction to rival the 5 great extinctions of 65 - 440 million years ago
  • Recovery times from the great extinctions took 10’s of millions of years
  • Biodiversity is essential to life on Earth and holds untold treasures for the future
global warming
Global Warming

0.6°C rise in last 100 years

“Accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, is tied to rising and extreme change in temperatures, and more severe storms.

The sea level has risen an estimated 10-20 centimetres, largely as a result of melting ice masses and the expansion of oceans linked to regional and global warming.

Small island nations and low-lying cities and farming areas face severe flooding.” -UNFDP


“Farmers, ranchers, loggers, and developers have cleared about half the world’s original forest cover, and another 30 per cent is degraded or fragmented.”


-Bryant et al. 1997

“Over the last half century, land degradation has reduced cropland by an estimated 13 percent and pasture by 4 percent.” - UNFPA

“Three quarters of the world’s fish stocks are now fished at or beyond sustainable limits. Industrial fleets have fished out at least 90 per cent of large ocean predators in the last 50 years.”

technology s roles
Technology’s Roles
  • Detailed information and understanding of what is occurring
    • Sensors, data processing, computers, models, predictions, communication, information…
  • Alternate technologies that mitigate and eliminate deleterious effects
    • Energy, water, transportation, communication…
  • Sustainable Development
engineers are vital
Engineers are vital
  • Developing and applying
    • the means by which to measure, analyze and predict future conditions
    • the technologies by which to mitigate and eliminate undesired effects
  • Describing, explaining and communicating
    • To policy makers
    • To the non-technical public
  • Creating the framework for a sustainable environment
  • Major increases are occurring in human population and affluence.
  • Major stresses result in our society, natural environment, and ecology.
  • Technology and engineering are central to the creation and the mitigation of problems.
  • Predicting the future is difficult (17). The next twenty five to fifty years will be decisive.

1. Cohen, Joel, How Many People Can The Earth Support?, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1995, p79-82.

2. Kates, Robert, Population, technology, and the human environment: A thread through time, Technological Trajectories and the Human Environment, J Ausubel and H.D.Langford, Eds., National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, page 38 (concept credited to Deevey, E., The human population, Scientific American, 203, no.9 (September) 1960, pages 194-204.)

3. Cohen, op. cit., p139.

4. Kates, op cit., p50-51.

5. Meadows, Donella H.. et al, Beyond the Limits, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont, 1992, p128-140.

6. Meadows, op. cit., p7.

references continued
References, continued

7. Meadows, op cit., Chapter 3, The Limits: Sources and Sinks, p51.

8. Meadows, op cit., Chapter 3, The Limits: Sources and Sinks, p55.

9. Meadows, op cit., Chapter 3, The Limits: Sources and Sinks, p67-8.

10. Ausubel, J, and H.D.Langford, Eds., Technological Trajectories and the Human Environment, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, p21 and 86

11. Cohen, op. cit., p52.

12. Wilson, Edward O., Foreword to 1999 edition, The Diversity of Life, W.W.Norton & Co., New York, 1992.

13. Wilson, E.O.,The Diversity of Life, W.W.Norton & Co., New York, 1992.

14..Meadows, op. cit, p92-96.

15. National Research Council, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change, National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 2000

16. Dunn, Seth, Decarbonizing the energy economy in Brown, Lester et al, State of the World,W.W.Norton & Co., New York, 2001, page 85

17. Cerf, Christopher, and Victor Navansky, The Experts Speak, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984, revised 2000.